Sit down, pour out a cup of tea or a glass of your favourite juice - or after-dinner cocktail, if it's that time of day where you are - and imagine you're sitting on an outdoor balcony as the breeze brushes past you and you're just casually chatting to businesswoman and model Priyanka Yoshikawa.
In this hyper-connected age of parasocial relationships and instant global communication, it is perhaps a little dangerous to suggest that chatting to Priyanka is just like talking to a friend, but it would be a disservice to her earnestness and charm to suggest otherwise. Having caught the attention of the Japanese public after winning Miss World Japan 2016, she won over a whole new legion of fans worldwide after her participation in Netflix show Love Is Blind Japan, that aired earlier this year.
The show sees men and women get to know each other whilst enclosed in pods, unable to meet face-to-face, to see if they can fall in love without seeing one another. Couples that make it out of the pods then try living together for a period of time to see if they can finally make it down the aisle. While Priyanka made it out of the pods (but not down the aisle), many a viewer enjoyed her candid and pragmatic approach to love, relationships and business. She laughs when I bring up a famous scene from the show where she grilled her prospective spouse Mizuki over the business he claimed to own, laying bare not only that he didn't quite own the business he claimed he did, but also Priyanka's own keen business acumen. Not your typical dating show scene, that's for sure.
"Let me just fill you in a little bit!" she says with a smile. "He didn't have a company, that's where I roasted him. But in the pods, he introduced himself as a business owner, a restaurant owner. My father owned a restaurant. So I know how tough it is. I have friends that own restaurants. But that's never the reason why I would choose [to be] with someone... because they own a company. I don't really mind whatever they do, as long as it's not shady."
"When we started living together, there were a lot of question marks from the beginning. The way he talked or how he approached me... it's really kind of hard to tell when there's a screen because it kind of blurs... their vibe; you can't really know what kind of person that he or she is. So I just had a lot of questions!
The conversation actually didn't happen in the restaurant, as it was shown [in the show]. It did happen, but the day before, off camera. I asked those questions because he was my fiancee, and if we were gonna get married, I just wanted to know! So it seems [in the show] like I'm asking him a lot of questions. But it was more that he didn't have an answer for me, so it just ended up that we couldn't have a conversation. That was the very hard part.
I didn't like being lied to from the beginning. It breaks the trust in a relationship and being able to trust your partner is one of the most important things I personally value in a relationship."
Business seems to be in Priyanka's wheelhouse: she is the owner of beauty brand MUKOOMI (a portmanteau of the words mukou (向こう), meaning beyond and miru (見る) meaning to see), which is in fact her second business. MUKOOMI was borne somewhat out of circumstance, when she found herself in Japan for a long period of time due to COVID and knew there was more she could do than just modelling. As someone who had used CBD before, and in the face of CBD restrictions easing in Japan, she found that CBD could become one of the cornerstones for her brand, one that Priyanka wished to have a much deeper and profound meaning for customers than stereotypical associations around beauty and wellness.
As a result, MUKOOMI's focus is on long term solutions to help encourage wellness and health in the user, both inside and out. The company's range features not just expected skincare staples such as a CBD toner, moisturiser and balm, but also CBD toothpaste tabs, a rose quartz roller and CBD chocolates. With a whole plethora of customers worldwide, it seems that Priyanka's 'ethos first' approach has resonated not just with fans in Japan, but also worldwide.
"I want like our customers to really like the brand, and what we stand for and then purchase our products," she tells me. "I wanted to create a community brand; then the community can empower each other through our products...
There are lot of kids struggling living in Japan as a minority or being biracial or just being a foreigner. So I wanted to create this story around diversity, and that just being who you are is okay. Because we're all individuals, and we can never be anyone else. So [the brand] really connects to what I've always been doing and who I am.
It's not easy, but it's very exciting. And it gives me a lot of joy to do it."
It might seem like a natural transition for someone in Priyanka's position as a model, and who has been appreciated for her beauty, to find creating a beauty brand an easy or natural business outlet: but as we speak it becomes very clear that her understanding around aesthetic perfection and perhaps as importantly, one's own sense of self, has been a complicated and profound journey for her. Being half-Indian and half-Japanese, she notes how when she was a child, she stood out at school because of her darker skin tone, and also because she came back to Japan after stints living in India and California. With her outwardly different appearance and initially shaky grasp of the language, she found herself bullied by her peers.
"I was like, why?" she recollects. "I lost a lot of self confidence and self love at that time. I realise that now, in my 20s, but at that time, I didn't know. I tried to like really... not deny myself, but try to work on: "okay, what can I improve?" That's kind of where my journey of self love began.
High school was when I started modelling, and that's when I got to really express who I was more in a creative way. That path really [helped] me. Then the self acceptance part came from when I was like, "Okay, well, I'm a minority, what can I do? I can't change that path in Japan." So I changed my... I just accepted it. Then I did a pageant in 2016 and that's when I was crowned as the first biracial for Miss World Japan.
That really boosted me a lot, and I went through a huge realisation phase at that time. You know, giving names to what kind of emotions I went through in my childhood years."
A strange paradox can be seen in how much of society treats childhood and youth: it is the time we're often told we should be at our most innocent, our most free, our most unfettered by the troubles of adulthood, and yet it also becomes the period that many also seem to wish to exploit the most. Whether that comes from over-celebrating or heaping too much pressure on the newest child prodigy in entertainment or sport, to the perceived disposability of many people in the public eye once they turn thirty. Perhaps forty, if you're lucky.
"Well with any sort of huge major brands, they have an anti ageing line, because everybody ages and we... we still want to have anti ageing! We want to anti age," she considers. "but I think the real meaning of anti-ageing is to... just avoid the problems that you get by ageing.
So when you're younger, you have much more water in your skin, and it doesn't dry out as much as when you are in your 30s or 40s, or 50s. But at every age, it changes every day, right? So for CBD for example, there is an anti-ageing benefit since it will help prevent rashes."
"But like today, I feel the youngest in like... in life. So every age should be valued. And every age should be beautiful. There was a quote that one of my interns actually used on our social media, ages ago. I forget whose quote it was, but it was a saying: 'Age is just a number to show how many years of life that you enjoyed.' That's so nice, right?
But I don't see a role model so much in Japan... a female role model. Like, when you look at like Beyoncé, it's not like she's 20! But that doesn't matter, right? [In Japan], there are not so many people that I think young girls can look up to and say: "Oh, this is okay. I can age with confidence and I feel safe, I don't need to rush"."
For a while we talk about how the beauty industry revels in all our insecurities when it comes to ageing, and the how much competition there is behind ones beauty, especially where youth, newness and a strict beauty standard are often favoured in a variety of Asian communities. You're either young or old, perfect or decrepit, rarely given space to be a variety of states in between.
It is only of late that the beauty industry has discovered there might be other ways to frame the way we think about and value what it means to be beautiful, and much packaging in the beauty space is still made to appeal to concepts of purity, freshness, newness and dynamism, rarely words applied to people over a certain age.
I mention in passing the muted browns and earthy tones of MUKOOMI's packaging, much akin to brands such as Aesop, and not like the white or pastel based packaging to be found in many a Japanese drugstore. Priyanka's face lights up.
"When it came creating my own brand, [I wanted] it to be gender neutral. I didn't want a product that's going to be very... pastel or just like very colourful," she elaborates. "[Then] since with ingredients, we're using CBD, and marijuana or hemp is not as accepted in comparison to different countries or Western culture... I wanted it to not look so medical. There are a lot of CBD products in Japan that appear very medical.
So I wanted it to be very neutral, but still a beauty line. And I wanted people to use it so naturally that they didn't even realise that it was CBD. You know, it could be just sitting around in any kind of home and it just blends in. When a guy uses it, it doesn't look like he's using a stereotypically 'girly' product, but at the same time when a woman uses it, it's still feels natural, real.
So I put into the packaging that I wanted to people to just use the product because they liked its texture, or any parts of our products. There are so many people that have negative impressions about THC and marijuana because the plant is still illegal in Japan, but I mean, the plant is so mistaken.
When our customers use our products, and they love our products, then have a good impression of the plant."
As our time nears an end, the conversation meanders back round to love once more. Beauty, identity, dating: all concepts and words we bandy around when we talk or think about love and relationships. All ideas that are different in the mind of every person and yet connect to this ultimate ideal of being cared for and valued for who you are in some shape or form. The many dating reality shows we now see on our screens tap into these concepts and how, as much as we try to quantify love, we can never quite predict the formula that will manifest it.
For Priyanka, her journey not just in Love Is Blind Japan, but also as a businesswoman, model, celebrity, granddaughter, daughter and friend have taken her through so many experiences of love from so many places around the world. For someone with so much life experience already, has the meaning of love become any clearer for her?
"There are many types of love," she finally says, after a moment. "For example, love from others... but I really do believe in accepting differences and flaws, even your own flaws. That's a very huge part of love. Nobody can really live without that.
I truly believe that everybody has some sort of self-love within them. I don't see that as strongly or as much as I wish to see, and I hope that people can find that."